Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Swishing Tail Excessively

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If you notice other signs of abdominal pain (colic).
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) indicate fever (Temp>101F/38.3C), or heart rate greater than 48 BPM that persists an hour after recovery from exercise.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If you want to rule out any physical issue being a factor in the behavior.
  • If this is something you notice under saddle but the horse seems well otherwise.

Excessive tail swishing or swatting is classically a sign of fly irritation, but can result from irritation around the hindquarters, anal area, flank or tail itself, sheath in males or udder in mares. Mares that are not in heat may swish their tail near a stallion. In other mares, it can be a sign of heat and receptivity. In some cases, it may be a prelude to kicking or a sign of abdominal pain (colic).

Tail swishing is also a behavior that horses perform under saddle. It is considered a fault in many show disciplines because it is thought to indicate general uneasiness and stress. It is common in horses that are ridden or trained lame or experiencing other pain. This behavior may also simply be an attempt to resist training cues.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to their attitude and appetite. Look for other abnormalities or signs of abdominal pain (colic). Evaluate the tail, tail base and surrounding area carefully. Look around the hind limbs and belly for anything that might cause irritation such as flies, wounds, swellings or other abnormalities.

For horses exhibiting this sign while under saddle, evaluate tack and bridle fit. For mares, consider whether this problem is coincides with her heat cycle. Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet may advise you to take a “wait and see” approach or suggest that they examine your horse. For tail swishing under saddle, they may suggest a lameness exam and exam under saddle. Much of this will depend on history and the presence or absence of other concerning signs.

For horses tails swishing under saddle, if no physical cause for the behavior can be found, consider getting the help of a qualified trainer.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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